This evening, 8 Republicans will participate in the seventh official presidential debate of the year. Hosted by the Washington Post and Bloomberg TV, it will take place in New Hampshire at 8:00 PM (EST) and will be moderated by Charlie Rose who will ask questions of the candidates along with Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty and Bloomberg TV’s Julianna Goldman. The entire debate will be dedicated to the economy and unlike previous debates, this one will feature a round table format with the candidates seated next to each other.
Following the event, the candidates and their advisers will speak to reporters in the political “Spin Room” which you can follow LIVE on C‑SPAN.org at 10:00 PM.
The debate comes at a critical juncture in the nomination contest. With last week’s announcements by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin declaring that they will not be running for President in 2012, this will, be the first debate of the election which forces voters to focus on comparing those who are running to one another and not with any hoped, for but undeclared, potential candidates. It also comes at a time when shifts in public approval of some candidates are swinging wildly. Such is the case with Herman Cain and Rick Perry. While Cain has emerged from the back of the field to take position in the top half of the field, the opposite has happened with Rick Perry.
At the same time Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and Jon Huntsman find themselves in the unenviable position of trying to establish themselves as the alternative choice to the frontrunners. Currently, all four of them are having to fight the “why” factor. That’s “why” as in why keep running?
Meanwhile, Texas Governor Rick Perry is probably under the most pressure tonight.
While the this evening’s debate may not be a deal breaker for him, it is most definitely going to be his opportunity to gain ground that he has lost since he began plummeting in the polls after his las debate performance. He could either get back on track or concede ground to Romney, Cain, or any one of the other second tier candidates, including Ron Paul. And with about twelve weeks left before the first nomination ballots are cast, Perry really can’t afford to lose any more ground . For him, tonight will mean the difference between voters continuing to consider his candidacy or writing it off as a dud.
For Herman Cain, this seventh debate provides him with the opposite version of the Perry situation.
Herman Cain must find a way to give voters who began to take his candidacy seriously after winning the Florida Straw Poll, reason to say, “Yeah. He really is good“. A good showing tonight will solidify Cain as the seriously strong, viable, anti-establishment alternative to the establishmentarian candidacy of frontrunner Mitt Romney.
Mitt Romney will also be under a great deal of pressure. He will be the man in the hottest seat of all. All the darts will be thrown at him.
Rick Perry believes the media driven perception that the Republican presidential election is a two man race between him and Romney. So he will largely leave the other candidates alone and simply try to take Romney down. Herman Cain understands that while Perry has been dropping in the polls, he has be rising and is in striking distance of overtaking Romney. So he will try to to give voters every reason to do so by taking his own shots at Romney. All the other candidates would like to make a name for themselves and know that one of the best ways to do so would be by landing a well publicized knockout punch to the current king of the hill. For Romney, he needs to avoid making any gaffes and to somehow convince the Republican base that he is as as conervative as any of the other candidates sitting with him. Pulling that off will be difficult but if he walks away gaffe free and standing, he will have achieved all he really needs to tonight.
Lost in each of those individual mini dramas will be another challenge that all the candidates will face in tonight’s debate. It is a challenge that will come from the media.
Previous debates were televised live on relatively popular and mainstream cable news stations. Bloomberg TV, has not yet established itself to be a comparable, mainstream, news source. Due to the fact that Bloomberg does not release figures about the size of its audience and does not have a contract with the ratings company Nielsen, it is hard to say what percentage of the American viewing audience Bloomberg shares, but it is safe to say that its share of the viewing public is somewhat small. Bloomberg TV’s audience does however have the highest median household income and the highest median net worth among cable news networks in the U.S.. Its viewer’s median income is $156,290. But that does not translate in to more viewers. Furthermore, Bloomberg TV is focussed on the New York City Tri-state are which includes New York City, Northern New Jersey, and Connecticut, and for the past two years the station has concentrated on building its 6 AM to 12 PM viewing audience, not its 8 to 10 PM audience.
This means that this evening’s audience will be far more limited than previous debates. As a result, most people will be hearing about the debate through the filter of the liberal mainstream media. In other words, the media will have far more control over the spin of this debate than they have had in the past. Most voters will be establishing their opinions of the candidates debate performances through whatever headline and spin that talking heads and journalists want us to believe.
That means that the greatest challenge facing the debate participants tonight will not come from one another, it will come from their ability to prevent the media from coopting their messages.
Mr. Fellows attributed the company’s absence on Nielsen to a combination of factors, including cost and Nielsen’s inability to measure the core audience sought by Bloomberg.
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